Site of Kirke House

Survey of London: Volume 16, St Martin-in-The-Fields I: Charing Cross. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1935.

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'Site of Kirke House', in Survey of London: Volume 16, St Martin-in-The-Fields I: Charing Cross, ed. G H Gater, E P Wheeler( London, 1935), British History Online [accessed 25 July 2024].

'Site of Kirke House', in Survey of London: Volume 16, St Martin-in-The-Fields I: Charing Cross. Edited by G H Gater, E P Wheeler( London, 1935), British History Online, accessed July 25, 2024,

"Site of Kirke House". Survey of London: Volume 16, St Martin-in-The-Fields I: Charing Cross. Ed. G H Gater, E P Wheeler(London, 1935), , British History Online. Web. 25 July 2024.


In the days of Henry VIII the space lying to the north of the timber yard, between the main road on the east and the wall of the Spring Garden on the west, as far as the point where the road turned westward towards St. James's, was occupied by eleven comparatively small "tenements" belonging to the Crown. Later, these gave way to houses forming the residence of such notable individuals as Sir Jerome Bowes, Elizabeth's ambassador to the court of Muscovy; Lord Stanhope of Harrington; Sir Robert Naunton, secretary of state; George Calvert, afterwards Lord Baltimore, founder of the Colony of Maryland; and Samuel Hartlib, friend of Milton. Later still, a further development took place, and the successors of these houses acquired distinction of a different character. Such resorts as Lockett's famous ordinary, the Turk's Head Bagnio, the tavern of Samuel Prior, and Young Man's Coffee House may be mentioned. It has seemed worth while to trace the fortunes of these "tenements" in some detail, and the first is that on the site afterwards occupied by Kirke House.

On 20th March, 1536–7, John Scott (fn. n1) obtained a grant of a tenement then in his tenure lately rebuilt by the King, next to "le Tymber yerd," near the King's Palace, for a term of 21 years. (fn. n2) The grant came into the possession of William Hayes, who surrendered it and on 31st October, 1551, obtained a new grant on similar terms. (fn. n3) In the same way the right of Hayes became vested in Patrick Fyffe, (fn. n4) to whom on 21st February, 1565–6, the premises were regranted (fn. n5) for 21 years as from the preceding Michaelmas. Before the expiry of the lease, Elizabeth, on 17th June, 1573, granted a reversionary lease of the property for 21 years to Katherine Hampton, whose interest was acquired by Nicholas Christian, (fn. n6) and the latter on 14th June, 1591, obtained a new lease for 40 years. (fn. n7) Nicholas Christian," messenger of her Maiesties most honorable Counteinge howse," died in 1592, and his will (fn. n8) mentions "a Certeine messuage … Commonlie Called … the Rose and Crowne (fn. n9) … neere Charinge Crosse … which I holde of the Queenes Matie … by Indenture of Lease." On 19th November, 1610, James I leased the premises (fn. n10) to John Eldred and William Whitmore for 60 years. What happened to this lease is unknown, but on 14th September, 1631, Charles I granted this and other properties to Sir Henry Browne and John Cliffe in perpetual fee farm. (fn. n11) On 5th June, 1633, Browne and Cliffe sold their interest (fn. n12) in the tenement "next le Timberyard … late in the tenure of John Scott … and now or late in the tenure of Nicholas Christian" for £45 to George Kirke, gentleman of the robes to Charles I. (fn. n13)

Kirke rebuilt the house, and in doing so encroached on the wall of the Spring Garden, for which he obtained a pardon. (fn. n14) The ratebook for 1632 gives "George Kirke xvijs" in respect of a house in the correct position, showing that he was in occupation of the old house before he became its owner. During the rebuilding of the house, Kirke seems to have moved (see p. 107), but in the ratebook for 1635 his name reappears in the old position and thenceforth continues with one break (1638) (fn. n15) until 1641. The books for 1642 and 1643 are missing, but in those for 1644 and 1645 the name of Lord Howard appears in the appropriate position. On 13th October, 1645, Kirke's house and household stuff at Charing Cross were sequestered for his delinquency, and the house was let to Lord Sheffield at a rent of £50. (fn. n16) Lord Sheffield (fn. n17) appears in the ratebook for 1646, and, under his title of Earl of Mulgrave, continues with one intermission (1650) until his death in 1658. Thereafter the countess (fn. n18) takes his place until 1661, after which their son (fn. n19) is shown in respect of the house in the ratebooks for 1662 to 1664 and 1670 to 1679. (fn. n20) It would seem, though the point is not quite certain, that Sir Henry Bennet (Lord Arlington) is jointly rated with the earl in 1663 and 1664, and is solely rated therefor in 1665, but with a note "in ye house but 3 months." For the years 1666 to 1669 Francisco "Demesis" is shown at the house. This is evidently intended for Don Francisco de Mello, the Portuguese Ambassador, and his residence here is confirmed by the Hearth Tax Roll for 1666, which shows "the Portugall Ambassador" rated at 23 hearths in respect of the house with a note, "King to pay." The roll for 1674 shows "Lord Mulgrave" for 26 hearths.

In 1681 the name of "Samuel Pryer" occurs in respect of a portion of the house. Samuel Prior was the uncle of Matthew Prior, poet and diplomatist, and the former's tavern in Charing Cross has been identified both as The Rummer and as the house where young Matthew was taken in to assist and wait on the customers. (fn. n21) The latter identification is very doubtful. Samuel Prior had formerly kept the Rhenish Wine House in Cannon Row, where Matthew assisted him, and whence he was sent back to Westminster School by the Earl of Dorset. As Samuel Prior did not remove to Charing Cross until Matthew was 17, it must have been the Cannon Row establishment that is referred to. As regards the identity of the Charing Cross house with The Rummer, however, it seems quite likely that at some time later the house, or a part of it, was The Rummer Eating House. The deed of 1712, which has previously been mentioned, concerning inter alia certain houses on the site of the timber yard, mentions a house in the occupation of Thomas Corbett "adjoining to a Messuage called the Rummer Eating house on the North," and in 1736 the same house is again referred to (fn. n22) as "formerly in the Tenure … of Thomas Corbett … abutting … North on a Messuage … now in the Tenure of … Thomas Patterson." Corbett's house was the northernmost of those on the timber yard frontage, and Patterson is known to have been a Kirke tenant (see below). The Rummer Eating House must therefore have been situated in the southern portion of the Kirke property, and may well have been identical with the house of Prior. (fn. n23) In that case it must have changed its character since Prior's time, for the latter's establishment was a tavern, not an eating house. (fn. n24)

The last ratebook giving Samuel Prior's name is that for 1695. During the whole of this period the Kirke family had retained possession of the house. On 15th August, 1723, Charles James Kirke and Mary his mother mortgaged (fn. n25) to Erasmus Lewis "all those three Severall Messuages … scituate … at or near Chearing Cross … heretofore One Messuage built by George Kirke, Esquire, Deceased, and formerly in the Tenure … of the Right Honourable the Earle of Mulgrave, afterwards in the Severall Tenures … of John Ferrers and Samuell Prior, since that in the possession of Nathaniell Rosewell, and late in the Occupation of Francis Gostridge, Vintner." (fn. n26)

By her will dated 25th July, 1753, Mary Kirke bequeathed all her freehold property at Charing Cross, "then in the Possession of herself and Mr. Thomas Paterson," to John Lambert and Elizabeth Cox "her upper Servant, for the Purposes therein mentioned." (fn. n27) The remaining house of the three was empty.

On 7th January, 1757, John Lambert and Elizabeth Cox sold the property, described as three messuages late in the tenure of "Mary Kirke, Thomas Paterson and —" to Francis Watkins. (fn. n28) In the list prepared by the Westminster Bridge Commissioners' surveyor in 1756 (see appendix) two of the houses are described as "old brick houses," one let to John Harris (Paterson's successor) and the other "next Spring Garden," unlet. Mary Kirke's house was not included in the list.

Thomas Williams, "Dealer in China," succeeded John Harris, "landskip painter," in 1757, and in the former's appeal (fn. n29) to the commissioners for favourable consideration he refers to the house as "commonly called Oliver Cromwell's House." In the plan reproduced in Plate 80, "Cromwell's Palace" is shown in Stanhope Court, further north. The only other reference to the place that has been found is the water-colour drawing reproduced on p. 86 (fn. n30) which obviously shows the Spring Gardens side of the building, but contains nothing to identify it specially with either Kirke House or Stanhope House. No evidence has been found to connect Cromwell with either house.

Figure 21:

"Oliver Cromwell's House"

On the widening of the street in 1758 the front house was pulled down, and an irregularly shaped piece of ground about 34 feet in depth was thrown into the road. The improvement was carried out at once, although, owing to the refusal of the owner, Francis Watkins, to accept either the commissioners' original offer, or the verdicts of two juries, the terms were not finally settled until 1771. (fn. n31) On the portion of the site left over Watkins erected a "New Brick Messuage … now [1771] in the Tenure … of Messrs Biddulph and Cox, Bankers." This was No. 43, Charing Cross. The site is now occupied by the northern portion of Martin's Bank.


  • n1. Probably the "John Sckotte" who was buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields on 6th October, 1544. (Accounts of the Churchwardens, 1525–1603, p. 94.)
  • n2. P.R.O., E. 315/209, fo. 48.
  • n3. P.R.O., E. 315/223, fo. 214.
  • n4. Buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 16th May, 1577. (Registers of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 1550–1619.)
  • n5. P.R.O., L.R. 1/42, fo. 311.
  • n6. Churchwarden of St. Martin's in 1580 and 1581. In the Churchwardens' Accounts for 1578 is an item: "pd for or Dynner at Nicholas Christyan his howse … ijs vjd."
  • n7. P.R.O., L.R. 1/49, fo. 48–9.
  • n8. Westminster Wills, 282 Elsam, dated 28th February, 1591–2, proved 13th March.
  • n9. Probably the "house or inn called le Roose," specified as a northern boundary of the timber yard in 1607 (see p. 75).
  • n10. P.R.O., C. 66/1895, No. 11.
  • n11. P.R.O., L.R. 1/60, fo. 49–50.
  • n12. P.R.O., L.R. 1/58, fo. 268 (translation)
  • n13. Afterwards housekeeper of Whitehall Palace; father of Col. Kirke of "Kirke's Lambs."
  • n14. "A Pardon to George Kirke, his Mats servant, for building a new howse nere Cheareing Crosse wth inlargemt of some parte thereof beyond the ould foundacion, and for extending the same uppon the Spring garden wall. And a graunt to him and his heires of soe much of the said wall and the soyle thereof as his building now resteth uppon." (P.R.O., Ind., 6810, July, 1637.)
  • n15. That he was in occupation in 1638, however, is shown by a letter written by him on 7th June, 1638, to Sir J. Coke from his "house at Charing Cross." (Hist. MSS. Commission, Earl Cowper's MSS., Appendix to 12th Report, Part II, p. 185.)
  • n16. Cal. of S.P. Dom., Committee for Advance of Money, p. 185.
  • n17. Edmund Sheffield, 2nd Earl of Mulgrave, born about 1611, succeeded his grandfather the 1st Earl in 1646. He supported the parliament against the King, and was a member of Cromwell's council.
  • n18. Elizabeth, daughter of Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex.
  • n19. John Sheffield, 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, was born in 1648. As he was baptised at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, it is probable that his birth took place at Kirke House. He served in both the Dutch wars. In 1673 he became colonel of the "Old Holland" regiment, and in the following year was made K.G. In 1682 he incurred Charles II's displeasure by making love to the Princess Anne. Under James II he was in high favour and was made lord chamberlain. Though submitting to William and Mary, he was for several years in opposition to the government. In 1694 he made his peace with William and was created Marquess of Normanby, but two years later resumed his former attitude of opposition. On Anne's accession he was again in favour, and in 1703 was created Duke of Normanby, and a fortnight later Duke of the County of Buckingham. On the death of the Queen he was one of the lords justices appointed to carry on the administration, but on the arrival of George I was dismissed from all his offices. He died in 1721 at Buckingham House in St. James's Park, and was buried at Westminster Abbey. He was a munificent patron of Dryden and a friend of Pope, and himself aspired to the fame of a man of letters.
  • n20. "Putting on two Stop Cocks on ye pipe in Spring garden that Carries ye water to ye Lord Moldgraves howse." (P.R.O., Works, 5/27, May, 1676.)
  • n21. "George his [Matthew's] father, after his wife's death, I suppose, moved to London, encouraged by his brother Arthur [sic] who had succeeded in the world and kept the Rummer Tavern by Charing Cross, the great resort of wits in the latter end of King Charles the Second's reign and in my remembrance; who took in his nephew Matthew to wait in the tavern, from which time you know his history." (Extract from letter from Conyers Place giving an account of Matthew's parentage, derived from his father's brother's son, Christopher Prior.—Hist. MSS. Commission, Duke of Portland's MSS., Vol. VI, p. 33.)
  • n22. Indenture, dated 21st January, 1735–6, between Charles Edwin and Humphrey Edwin. (Middx. Register, 1736, III, 290.)
  • n23. The ratebook evidence about 1705 is difficult to interpret, and it has not been found possible to confirm the above statement from that source.
  • n24. It must also be remembered that there is a difficulty in identifying Prior's house in 1683 with The Rummer at all, since the name of the proprietor of the latter is said to be Lawrence.
  • n25. Middx. Register, 1723, IV, 208.
  • n26. The ratebooks for 1696–9 show Nathaniel "Roswell" and those for 1700–2 Francis "Gostrig" at the house.
  • n27. Middx. Register, 1755, I, 490.
  • n28. Ibid., 1757, I, 366.
  • n29. See P.R.O., Works, 6/35, pp. 83–4. Williams stated that the premises "are not only extremely well situated for Your Petitioner's Business, but have a large and commodious Warehouse and Sale Room therein, which Your Petitioner hath been at a great Expence in fitting up for the Sale of his China and other Goods."
  • n30. In the Crace Collection at the British Museum is a print practically identical with the water-colour drawing. Whether the print was engraved from the water-colour, or the latter copied from the print, has not been ascertained.
  • n31. Indenture, dated 22nd May, 1771, between Francis Watkins, optician, and Clarinda, his wife, and Samuel Seddon and John Simpson (P.R.O., C. 54/6314, No. 2). Watkins obtained £2,000 for the land given up.